December 6

One evening my wife and I received instant messages on our phones.  The first was a short video from our son of our granddaughter Aubry holding his guitar and strumming with her right hand–while he formed the chords on the neck of the guitar with his left hand.  She was so proud and intent.  The second message was a picture of our daughter of our newborn grandson Cleo–doing what he does best–napping contently.  That night I felt extremely blessed and my soul was smiling.  There’s nothing quite like the innocence, curiosity and contentment of little ones–except puppies and kittens perhaps.  Little ones can bring out our best, most-nurturing and caring selves.  Their existence is a message of hope and promise–a reason to pause and ponder, a reminder to be grateful.

 
So it is the Christian year begins with Advent–waiting, hoping, preparing to see the face of a baby, a child meant to change us so we can work with God to transform the world.  This Sunday at Grace we’ll pause and ponder the story of that baby.  We’ll remember his name is Jesus.  We’ll glimpse his face in the faces of the children who tell his story to us:  through the prepared script and the unexpected moments that always happen with children.  Watching the children’s Christmas program is a way to remember we are extremely blessed.  It’s a reason for our souls to smile.  It’s also a chance for God to whisper renewed life into our “best selves.”  If we allow it, it will remind us of the high and holy tasks we are called to–nurturing, healing, encouraging and blessing.  
According to the angel who visited Joseph in a dream long, long ago, it is in the spirit of offering our best selves to those around us that we discover Emmanuel, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23).  Today, make time to pause and ponder the baby Jesus.  Try to see his face in any who may need nurture and care, whatever their age, as all a children of God.

Blessings,
Pastor Roger

November 26

I never knew how blessed it would feel to be a grandparent.

I thank God, each day, for the privilege.
Wrapped up in the “thank you” is a recognition:
being a parent when my kids were small was more of a blessing than I knew at the time;
getting married was more of a blessing than I knew 33 years ago;
growing up in a small town without ever once worrying about a school shooting
four and five decades ago was more blessing than I realized at the time;
the parents I had, and still fortunately have, again more of a blessing than I knew.
The list goes on and on of blessings that were more than I knew at the time.
The list reminds me of blessings I need to  focus on right now.
Each person with different opinions than me, who I may never agree with,
has a unique life-story underneath opinions that I can learn from,
that can allow me to see life through a myriad of different lenses.
Each kind action is worth dwelling on–as a whisper of hope,
and reminder of who we are called to be and what is meant to us apart
as humans with the freedom to choose self-sacrifice or selfishness.
Each song is the melody of the human soul–a miracle that rises beyond
the mystery of a lifetime of heartbeats, given by a power beyond ours.
Each moment that has even a hint of good in it is a gift than did not need to be.
I expect there’ll come a day, in the great beyond, when each of us will say,
“Earthly life was more of a privilege than we ever knew at a the time.”
Still, it is worth dwelling on the good for a moment and saying,
“Gracious God, Thank you for the privilege.” 
Happy Thanksgiving,
Pastor Roger

November 22

Thursday November 21st was the culmination of hearings that will probably lead to the drafting of articles of impeachment. Occasionally, during the day I’d catch a few minutes of the hearings.  Even from a 1,000+ miles away I could feel the tension in the room.   Also, there Seemed to be more talking than listening going on.  Add to that, carrying prayer concerns for people I care about, and by day’s end I was feeling a bit stressed.  Moreover, it was a bit cold outside when I headed to the Lydia circle meeting.  But, that meeting was the perfect place to be. 
I wish everyone reading this could have been there for the devotion time.  The devotional reflections focused on Peace.  We heard children’s descriptions of what peace would feel like and look like, of how peace would taste and sound.  We pondered adult thoughts on peace, and shared in a couple of prayers for peace.  It felt like perfect timing for my soul–and I expect it did for most of those gathered.  (Thank you Wanda for the theme and thoughts).
Sometimes it seems God just steps in with exactly the words, or thoughts, or people we need to for the moment.  It’s a reminder not only that God is always at work for good, it’s a reminder that at any given moment God might be inspiring any one of us to share prayerful words that will bless others.
When is the last time God brought you peace through another’s timely words?  When is the last time you brought peace to another through your presence?  Truth is, sometimes people don’t tell us immediately when we’ve helped them on their journeys.  So, my guess is that each of us have encouraged others without even knowing it.  Two final questions:  What brings you peace?  How might you share what brings you peace with someone else this week?
Sunday we’ll be celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the United Methodist Women.  Over the last 150 years all across the world United Methodist Women have been sharing blessings and working for peace.  I invite you come and listen to stories of caring that will warm your heart and bring you a bit of peace to start off the new week.  10 AM Sunday.  Hope to see you there.
Blessings,
Pastor Roger

November 14

Rabbi Harold Kushner shares, “I read an interview with a man whose small plane had crash-landed at a California air strip.  Fortunately he was able to evacuate before the plane burst into flames.  A reporter asked him what was going through his mind as the plane neared the ground.  His answer: ‘I realized I hadn’t thanked enough people in my life.'” (Kushner, The Lord Is My Shepherd).  I would be interested to know who came to the man’s mind.  Did he wish to thank his children who taught him to love more selflessly than he ever thought was possible?  Was it his spouse who stood at his side even through rough times–PTSD, cancer, bankruptcy, or some other struggle?  Did he wish to thank a friend who once pulled him from the dark abyss of depression?  Was it an A.A. group that turned his life around?  Perhaps it was a flight instructor who equipped him to do his very best at this moment when a crash was imminent?  Maybe it was a parent who was patient through his roller-coaster teen-aged years?  Perhaps it was a doctor that helped him survive a childhood illness and go on to live a full, meaningful life?

Whoever the man wished to thank is not as important for me or you, as who it is we need to thank before leaving this world.  Most of us have been blessed, forgiven, uplifted, healed, encouraged, and guided on life’s journey more than we know.  Sometimes there is moment when gratitude wells up.  It may be at the time of a near-death experience.  It may be when we simply slow down long enough and quiet our busy minds enough to remember how fortunate we are to have people who care for us.  We need make space for gratitude in our lives:  because, every “safe travels,” “get well soon,” “I’ll be thinking of you,” or “remember, if you ever need a listening ear,” is a reason (and a person) worthy of thanks.
The Apostle Paul, who had several near death experiences, wrote these words to the Philippians, “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather bring up all your requests to God in your prayers and petitions–along with giving thanks.   Then the peace of God will keep your hearts and minds… .”  (Philippians 4:6-7a)  How can you give thanks today to someone who has blessed you?  What blessings has God provided you and how will you show your gratitude?
November 17th Grace will have a Sunday of Thanks and Giving.  It’s a Sunday when we’re encouraged to give monetary gifts to support Grace Church’s ministry.  But, there’ll also be an opportunity to privately reflect on a 2019 God-given blessing or two you’re thankful for.  So, I invite you to be thinking ahead of time about what you’re most thankful for this past year.  You’ll have a chance to privately offer your thanks in a meaningful way during the service.
Blessings & Thank You for how you bless Grace UMC,
Pastor Roger

October 30

Twenty years ago we were in Florida with our children and my parents. Disney World and Sea World were part of their experience, along with a trip to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. The internet wasn’t the vast source of information back then; so, before starting on our trip to the Atlantic, I found a weather channel that had the predicted wave heights for the day. I wanted to go where the surf would be the most dramatic. Off we went to New Smyrna beach, Volusia, County, known for the best surf in all of Florida. I didn’t know at the time that New Smyrna beach is known for the most shark bites in Florida. Actually, it’s known for the most shark attacks in the US. Some have even dubbed it the shark-bite capital of the world.

In fact, this morning story of a man who hopped off his surfboard yesterday (10/29) into four feet of water. He landed squarely atop a shark that proceeded to bite him in the ankle. Turns out the larger waves in Volusia County are because a deep channel is nearer to shore by the beach there. Had I asked some locals, “Where is a beach with good waves and few sharks?” I might have chosen a different beach. When traveling there’s wisdom in choosing to learn from those who know the area. Now every time I see a report of a shark-bite there, I send a note to my grown kids. “Yup, this is where your Dad took you swimming. Oops.”

This Sunday, Grace Church will celebrate All Saints’ Sunday. In the United Methodist tradition Saints aren’t super-humans who perform miracles and are near perfect in their faith. In our tradition Saints are those we love who’ve reached heaven’s shore before us. Like all Christians they are both sinner and saint–saved by Grace. Like us, they make mistakes along the way. Like us, they’ve been created in the image of God, saved by the grace of Christ, and redeemed by the Spirit that empowers us to be our best selves from time to time. So, all Saints’ Sunday is the celebration of a God who grants us the gift of heaven after this life. But, it’s also the celebration of the God-created best in us, the reminder we are all saints by the grace of God. Each of us has wisdom to offer based on the lives we have lived and the lessons God has taught us along the journey. All Saints’ Sunday proclaims each of us is a “local” with wisdom and knowledge to help others along their faith-journeys.

Spiritually-speaking, when have you asked another for guidance and learned how to avoid the sharks? Who has been a Saint, a guide, a blessing for you (and maybe your family) along life’s journey? Today, who may need the wisdom you have to offer?

Prayer: God, use me to guide another this week. And, thank you for all who have guided me along the journey. Thanks for the chance we all have to be saints along the journey until we reach the heavenly shore. Amen.

Blessings,
Pastor Roger

October 23

     As I was creating a slide for last Sunday’s message:  I was using a brass compass and I was also pondering a term that seemed to be popping up repeatedly last week–Truth North.  Just days earlier, the True North term popped up in a workshop I attended.  Then I heard it again during the interview of a retired Admiral who whose book “Sailing True North” just came out.  (Thanks to the Youth Sunday School class and their teacher who gave me the book as a gift.  They purchased it after their Sunday School class scavenger hunt at Barnes and Noble.  So kind of them).  So, during Sunday’s message I reflected on Jesus’ True North commandment–Love God and Love Neighbor.  That greatest commandment is meant to help us stay the course.
 

     Later in the day, I also found myself thinking of my own “True North Scripture.”  It seemed God was whispering, “it’s time to get creative Roger.”  The image above is the compass I used Sunday for the PowerPoint slide and for children’s moments; the brass ship’s wheel has been on my home desk for ages; and the wood is a cheese cutting board with the handle cut off and fastened upright on the board to hold the wheel.  Now, burned into the re-purposed cheeseboard, is my True North:  Micah 6:8 —  

He has showed you, O mortal, what is good;  and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?           (Revised Standard Version)
 
     This upcoming Sunday is Reformation Sunday–the Sunday that commemorates many things including the beginning of an age when people were able to afford a family Bible because of the printing press and read it because of rapidly increasing literacy.  For the first time in history, ordinary people could open the Scriptures for themselves, (no Priest speaking Latin needed).  Ever since, many of us have found favorite verses that speak to us as we read our Bibles.  What is your True North passage?  How do you celebrate it?  How do you live it?  How do you share it?  Today, I invite you to open your Bible to your favorite Scripture verse, or google the passage with your phone.  Take a moment to re-read your True North Scripture.  Thank God for the way it speaks to your heart.  Ponder a new way you might keep that passage in your daily thoughts.
 
Blessings, 
 Pastor Roger

October 18

“You must continue with the things you have learned and found convincing.  You know who taught you since childhood…” (II Timothy 3:14).  Recently my wife and I went to the movie “Abominable.”  It’s basically a kids movie; but it has fabulous art, my favorite song, and a story line that kept me thinking, “I can’t wait to watch this with my granddaughter.”  If the movie is out in time on DVD she’ll be getting it for Christmas–because it’s one of those movies with a  girl as the main hero.  The girl in the movie isn’t a princess hero.  She is a mix of compassion and strength, grieving a loss but persevering with hope.  She is the Jesus figure others don’t quite understand, but often turn to when they are down.  She is the one the others follow and discover gifts and strengths within themselves that they didn’t know they had.  Every chance I get I wish to present my granddaughter with images of girls and women who are strong and heroic.  It’s a grandparent goal.  For her birthday we’ll be giving her the “Moana” DVD–another story where the hero is a girl.  Both “Abominable” and “Moana” are stories where it will be easy for us as Grandparents to say to our grand daughter, “and that’s kind of how God watches over us through the good times and the bad–always with us in Spirit.”

When I read the line from Timothy, “you know you taught you since childhood…,” I am reminded of those who blessed my life with uplifting stories and faith-sharing when I was a child.  What we learn in our youngest years can be so powerful.  I want to pass on the most positive stuff in life to my grand kids–the stories that uplift, the words that encourage, Bible-stories that remind us of a loving God who is our strength, healing and courage.  As II Timothy says, “We must continue with these things” for the sake of others and for the sake of our own souls.  The world is not always uplifting.  The messages adults, little girls and little boys receive about who they are are not always helpful and often hurtful.  So, we of faith are called to continuing sharing the hope, beauty and whispers of God at work in life every day.

     What stories (from the Bible or from life) encourage you?  Have you shared that story with someone else in an effort to bless that person?  May God keep us all faithful in lifting up the best, pointing out the best, and encouraging one another on the journey called life.  Sunday’s message with me “Stay the Course” and reflect more on keeping the faith and passing on the faith especially amidst life’s challenges.
Blessings,
Pastor Roger

October 9

I’ve never named a tree until “Goldie” came along.  Today, (Wednesday October 9th), Goldie is radiating the spirit of fall in the parsonage backyard.  Meanwhile, at Bowman UMC in western North Dakota all Wednesday evening activities have been cancelled as a pending blizzard nears.  Having outgrown my enjoyment of blizzards years ago, Goldie reminds me to be thankful for the beautiful moments in life–especially because they don’t always last.  Luke tells of the day Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee.  Ten lepers called out to Jesus.  “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!”  Jesus paused and spoke healing words into their lives.  Immediately, they all hurried off to show the priests they’d been cleansed. Once the priests saw they were cleansed, they could re-enter the community.  So, they were in a hurry.  But, there was one took an extra moment to walk back to Jesus and fall before him.  “Thank you!” said the healed man.  Jesus commended the man, then asked where the other nine who were healed were (Luke 17:11-19).
     The healing story is rich with meaning–including the fact that the only one who gave thanks was an often frowned-upon Samaritan–a foreigner.  Today, however, the story’s message reminds me of Goldie’s plea:  “Make time to be thankful.”  Expressing thanks is a faithful and healing action.  Martin Luther once said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces I would still plant my apple tree.”  Why, if the world was falling apart any?  Because some actions are healing for our souls:  like planting life and expressing of thanks.  Take a moment today to thank God, or thank someone who has blessed you.  If you want, take the time to thank a tree like Goldie.  Tomorrow, even if the blizzard does reach us, make the effort to find something else to express thanks for.
Blessings,
 Pastor Roger

September 27

Jesus once told the story of a rich man who often wore purple–a color signifying royalty in Jesus’ day because it was expensive to dye cloth purple.  Every time I hear the story I think of another person in the Bible who dealt in purple cloth.  Her name was Lydia.  She’s remembered as a generous, faithful pillar of the early church.  She was the epitome of giving to Christ’s mission.  The rich man, not so much.  Daily he saw a beggar named Lazarus, but showed no mercy.  Lazarus would have been content with crumbs from the table of the rich man.  But, the rich man was neither generous or compassionate–until the day he died.  On that day the rich man found himself looking over a wide chasm.  On the other side was Lazarus–eating well, perhaps wearing purple, while the rich man did not even have water to cool his own tongue.

At that moment, in his own suffering, the rich man suddenly had compassion for his family.  “Warn my brothers, so they don’t end up like me.”  “Send Lazarus to tell them.  If someone goes to them from the dead, they will change their hearts and live.”  Abraham came to the rich man and said, “If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then they won’t be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.”  (Luke 16:19-21)

Sometimes fear wins out over compassion like the rich man who placed a gate between himself and Lazarus.  Sometimes arrogance overrules compassion.  Sometimes weariness when the amount of human need seems beyond our ability to fix.  It’s literally called “Compassion Fatigue.”  No doubt you’ve felt it when mass shootings or natural disasters come really close together.  Even though Jesus’ greatest commandment is love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, sometimes we fail, especially if compassion fatigue sets in.
One way to sustain compassion in such times is to remind ourselves we aren’t called to fix the world, just to show compassion to one person at a time.  Another way is to ask for help in sharing compassion.  For example, visit the Upper Room Prayer Wall.  If you have a friend, family-member or stranger whose problems you can’t fix at the Upper Room Prayer wall you can simply share a first name of someone you’re praying for, the state you’re from and what you’re praying for.  It’s free of charge and an Upper Room Prayer team holds your prayers in their hearts, and anyone who visits the virtual prayer wall can do the same. Simply visit the wall by clicking on the link:  http://prayer-center.upperroom.org/prayer-wall    The Upper Room is one of United Methodism’s most powerful ministries–with many videos and books to sustain and grow Jesus’ followers.   Also, keep your eye out and your ears open for others who may be experiencing compassion-fatigue.  Asking someone, “is there anything you’d like me to keep in my prayers” can be a wonderful gift to a weary soul.
God’s Peace,
Pastor Roger

September 20

This evening I had the opportunity to stop by the hospital to have a prayer with Scott and Lisa Gedrose–who are welcoming Casey James into this world.  Casey is a nice-sized baby but is in the NICU.  Please keep him in prayers.  It was my privilege to walk with Scott and his five other kids as they made their way through the hospital to visit Casey and their Mom.  They were adorable.  “Look, it’s the church guy,” one said.  When the got to the NICU they each happily washed their hands, and started whispering.  Two of them showed me how high they could jump.  When it was time to visit Casey the oldest two boys said, “let the youngest go in first” (chivalry at its best is alive!).  Eventually, every sibling had a chance to see, touch and say “hi” to their new brother.  Then, one of the littlest said the most wonderful thing.  “He’s so cute” (followed by the perfect pause)… “I’m gonna cry!”
 
     Yes! That is the perfect response to new life!  A wise child–who at that moment knew exactly what’s important.  
 
     This upcoming Sunday our theme is “Spend Life in Wise Fashion” and focused on a Scripture I’ve puzzled over where Jesus tells the story of a manager who is about to be fired and creates a plan to care for himself post-firing by strategically using his employer’s funds make friends with those who may care for him when he is jobless.  The employer finds out–and commends the sneaky manager.  Then Jesus goes on to call us to be wise with life–like this manager was with money.  It has always seemed like an odd parable.  
 
     Someday I hope to ask Jesus about it.  In the meantime Jesus still calls us to be wise–to use all at our disposal to focus on the stuff that is truly important.  Relationships, things that make us cry happy tears, gratitude for the gift of life itself, these are the very things that we focus on when we are wise.  These are the very things that protect and shelter our souls in times of worry and struggle.  Sometime today, for a few moments, focus on a beautiful, uplifting moment in your life.  Close your eyes and simply “know in your heart” God was in that moment.  Then ask God to help you remember “these are the moments” life is about.  Ask God to give you power live wisely–staying focused on the important stuff.
 
Blessings, Pastor Roger